When Oprah was in the fourth grade, she was sent briefly to live with her father, a barber in Nashville Tennessee. That year she had Mrs Duncan, who impacted Oprah so profoundly that from that moment on she planned on being a fourth grade teacher. Even after becoming a billionaire talk show host, she continued to view herself as a teacher, even starting her World famous book club and building schools in South Africa.
In the South in the early days of integration, Oprah must have been one of the first black students Mrs Duncan ever had, and while Mrs Duncan remembers Oprah as an ideal student, not even she could have imagined that ideal student would grow up to be the most influential woman on the planet and for years, the World’s ONLY black billionaire.
In 1989, Oprah reunited with Mrs Duncan in one of the sweetest moments in TV history. In emotional moments like this, you can totally see the rare gifts that made Oprah show such a blockbuster success (at it’s peak viewership was three or four times the competion).
But the clip is interesting also because of what it tells us about Oprah’s IQ. Oprah’s fluent reading made her the teacher’s pet, and being the best reader in a typical U.S. class implies top 3% verbal ability. But for Oprah to have dominated the class in reading, she must have been at least 0.5 standard deviations above the second best reader. The second best reader in a class of 30 would be at the one one in 15 level, and someone half an SD higher would be approaching the top 1%.
But because Oprah had jumped from Kindergarten to second grade in only a few weeks, Oprah would have been about 8.75 while the average fourth grader would be 9.5. On the WISC-R IQ test, an 8.75 year-old who is on the top 1% of 9.5-year-olds in say Vocabulary, would be in the top 0.5 to 0.1% for her own age group (Verbal IQ 140 – 145). Let’s say a verbal IQ 143. This might be an underestimate because if Oprah’s class were far bigger than 30 students, she might still have been the best reader by a noticeable margin, but I err on the conservative side because Oprah recalls being a terrible writer when she started her TV career (it’s one of the reasons she switched from hard news to hosting talk shows).
Oprah remembers herself as a fluent reader but not very good at math (not “getting” long division). However Mrs Duncan recalls Oprah not struggling with anything and grasping concepts readily. Let’s split the difference and assume Oprah did grasp long division, but only barely. In other words, when it came to math, she was like an average 9.5-year-old (typical fourth grader) despite being 8.75. On the WISC-R Arithmetic subtest, a 8.75-year-old who performs like an average 9.5-year-old would be in the 63rd to 75 percentile or roughly a math IQ of 108.
However, Oprah was in the fourth grade during the 1960s and prior to the 1980s, blacks scored the equivalent of 10 IQ points lower on reading tests than they do today suggesting reading tests were underestimating their IQs, so let’s add 10 points to Oprah’s verbal IQ, making it 153.
Similarly, math tests underestimated them by 4 points, so let’s bring Oprah’s math IQ from 108 to 112.
Given a 0.58 correlation between reading and math in the general U.S. population (WIAT manual), a composite IQ of nearly 140 is implied. Such spectacular intellect, combined with great energy, charisma and the support of mentors like Mrs Duncan, helped Oprah overcome racism, sexism, classism, colorism, illegitimacy, fat phobia, poverty and abuse to become the billionaire Queen of all Media.